Sunday, March 29, 2009

February Desert Ride

While we had been making the best of the winter, with X-country skiing and skating etc. it was high time to get outside on two wheels. A Southwest cycling vacation was just what we needed. The festivities began with pre-flight drinks at JFK. Cheers!

Day 1, we had shipped our bikes and had to wait for the shop to open at eleven o’clock. So, we hiked along Riverside Park in Tempe. The park is quite beautiful, with a bike path and tiles that tell stories in poetry along the banks. We watched the birds, and the many scullers navigating the calm waters. Victor gave me a new camera for Christmas, and I was having fun playing with the macro lens taking pictures of flowers as we climbed up one of the nearby hills.

Finally, we got our bikes and were on our way. We had a 75-mile trek across the desert ahead of us. The skies were overcast, and the day was already getting late. Morgan, my trusty steed, seemed to know it was folly and threw some obstacles in our way in the manner of two consecutive flat tires. While patching the last tube, we contemplated
calling the nearest bike shop when I realized my phone was in my jacket which I had accidently left back at the bike shop! We were about 35 miles out with just two hours until the shop closed. With luck, we made it, got the jacket and then rode to a hotel in Scottsdale, arriving just after the sun had set. We had ridden all afternoon, but were only a couple of miles from our starting point. We made the best of it with some fine red wine and delicious pasta.

Day 2 we rode out along the canals on unpaved bike paths. The sky was still a bit overcast, but the air was warming. We were about to get on US route 60, a busy highway, when Victor got a flat. While he fixed the flat outside a local bar, a fellow came out and started chatting with me. He shared that his father had passed away just a few hours earlier. He just wanted to talk. The great thing about cycling is how close you are to the people. Every place you go, people talk to you. There are so many ways people live their lives, and on a bike, you get a close up view. He smoked a cigarette and went back inside and we were on our way.

We stopped for coffee and checked out a Performance Bike Shop. We stopped at all kinds of cool places to eat, including Coyote Flats, The Way Cool Café and a little hole in the wall place where the chili was fantastic and the bathrooms were surprisingly clean. We met an old timer at one place, who told us of his bike accident that has kept him in and out of the doctor’s office for two years. He was a character. Another old-timer had not been so lucky. Just outside of Wickenburg we found the Ghost Bike of Charles Peterson, 80 years old, who was run off the road in 2007. We were reminded that our sport is not without risk.

Soon after, we arrived in Wickenburg, a cute little rodeo town. It was early enough that the museum was still open. Though small, they had some really great exhibits. We had dinner in a great little Mexican place, did our laundry, and took a dip in the hotel pool/hot tub. The next morning we had breakfast in a local eatery. Despite the sign that claimed tourists were treated “same as home folks,” they led us past the cowboys seated at the front, into a formal dining room in the rear where we ate all by ourselves.

Day 3, was a 95-mile ride across the Arizona desert into headwinds. There were forests of giant saguaro. I tucked in behind Victor, he sucked down a pint of Hammer gel, and somehow we made it across. We were exhausted by the time we got to Old Tackitt's place a few miles out of Quartzite. Old Tackitt's woman offered us some spaghetti, but we just used the bathroom and headed out. The last 10 miles were on interstate 10, which allows bikes, but had a sign telling us to ride in the shoulder, as if we had any intention of wrangling with tractor-trailers going 100mph. We finally got to Quartzite and I looked around for the village, but there was nothing but lot after lot of RV parks and dealerships. It was RV purgatory! Victor was not interested in my dismay and only wanted to find someplace to eat. We did find a fine little establishment, frequented by the local RV crowd of retired folks. There was not a man without facial hair and the women wore 1980’s off-the-shoulder shirts and feathered hairstyles. We had pizza and beer that couldn't be beat and fled to the nearby Super 8. The only thing interesting about that place was the fact that in the morning, while having breakfast in the lounge, I found on the coffee table, a Bicycling magazine. Now, what are the chances of that?

Day 4, the sun was warm and red on the mountains as we set out. Our shadows were silhouetted on the hillside as we rode out of town. This was to be our longest day, 112 miles, but the wind was at our backs. The border with California is the Colorado River. On the other side of the river the saguaro disappeared and the landscape changed. But like Arizona, many of the towns seemed very broken, with people barely able to eek out a living. We met a fellow rider who had just set out to ride around the whole country for an entire year. He was also using Adventure Cycling maps. We climbed up rolling canyons and passed the Pre-Columbian Indian trail. Finally, after waiting forever for a train to pass we crossed into Glamis Dunes. I was hoping for a burger, but the place was deserted. The guy in the convenience store (the only thing open) told us that the action starts on Friday night. Hundreds of dune buggies gather every weekend and the place becomes a scene from Mad Max. We marveled at this wonder of nature 5 miles wide and 50 miles long. Have you seen a movie set in a sandy desert? It was filmed here most likely.

Later that afternoon, we arrived in Brawley, booked into a lovely hotel and went to dinner, where we shared a bottle of wine and enjoyed a large meal, including a chocolate dessert. We followed this up with a soak in the hotel hot tub and concluded that this was one great way to vacation.

Day 5, we were dealing with headwinds again, and some crosswinds that wouldn’t even allow me to hide behind Victor. But, the sun was shining and we were rejuvenated and ready to ride. We rode into the Imperial Valley, were it was apparently lettuce season. The pickers arrive in white buses, hauling port-o-potties and water/washing stations. They use a huge machine that drives through the field and boxes the lettuce as the workers pick. There were several border patrol checkpoints, I assume to control the flow of illegal workers who might have come in through Arizona. There is a lot of work in the Imperial Valley. Nearby, we saw others planting a field. All this lush agriculture is possible because of the Salton Sea, a large lake created by runoff from the Colorado River. The lake is growing as climate change melts the icepack. The marshland preserves, home to a huge diversity of wildlife, are now drowning. Where there used to be 37,000 acres there are now less than 3,000.

As we climbed into the high desert we found ocotillo in bloom! With hundreds of miles under our seats, we thought we deserved a little luxury. We found it at the Borrego Springs Inn. This place has two pool/hot tubs- one being clothing optional. In the evening we soaked and drank wine and looked at the stars. I took a morning soak as well (clothing optional). In the courtyard was a bird enclosure. We watched finches fight over a feather for a long time. It would not fit in the tiny nests, but they kept trying.

Day 6, we climbed Yaqui Pass. I looked up at the snow-capped peaks that seemed impossibly far away and Victor informed me that was where we were headed for lunch. For a moment, I thought I might be hallucinating, as I saw a pack of elephants, but they turned out to be giant sculptures. The road snakes up the canyons, slow and steady, for hours. The views were spectacular, but my nether regions were not happy. Victor distracted me from my pain by playing clown on the embankment. As we climbed, the desert turned into forest. And soon, we found snow! At the top was a lovely western town called Julian. Victor took me to the famous pie shop where we had warm apple boysenberry pie, chased down by a Fat Tire beer, for lunch. Then it was a fast ride down the other side, past ranches and farms to Ramona, our last stop in California. We got there in time to visit Kirk's Bike Shop. The town itself was nothing special, but we were tired, so we got some food and went to sleep.

Day 7, it was my idea to leave before dawn. We needed to ride 45 miles to San Diego, rent a car and drive back to Tempe before the shop closed to turn in our bikes for shipping. We rode by streetlight, and just as we got out of town, the sky started to brighten. There were few cars and trucks, so the ride was peaceful. As we rode into San Diego, we found a bunch of cyclists out on a Saturday club ride. We were anxious to get to the beach and have some time there before we needed to head out, so we were going at a fast clip. It was hilarious to watch Victor speed past these guys, on their carbon fiber rides, with is Trucker and full panniers. In no time we arrived at Mission Bay and made our way down to Dog Beach. This place is a haven for dogs, their masters and surfers. We spent some time breathing in the fresh ocean air and dipping our feet in the cold seawater before making one last stop to get some of the most delicious pastries I have ever eaten at a sidewalk café. Food always tastes better after long hours of riding. As we retraced our 500 miles in the car, we were amazed at how far we had come and pleased with how much we had seen and ready to plan our next adventure!
To see all the pics, click here:


Lisa said...

Amazing! That sounds like a fabulous trip!

Eve said...

Wow! What an incredible trip and a wonderful telling of the story. Hope you share some of this with your students (and then write off the whole trip!).

Paul said...

you are amazing!!! I loved the story and the photos; I felt like I was there with you on the trip. Wonder what kind of adventure you have in store for next year???

kttrue said...

Next year? You mean next month! We are planning to do a series of ultra cycling events- 200, 300, 400, 600k to qualify for the 1240k Endless Mountains in Sept. Stay tuned for more stories.